Doe on the demise of Archer v. Haithcock, 51 N.C. 421, 6 Jones 421 (1859)

June 1859 · Supreme Court of North Carolina
51 N.C. 421, 6 Jones 421

Doe on the demise of PATSEY ARCHER and others v. MERRITT HAITHCOCK.

Cohabitation, reputation, and a general recognition of a male and female as man and wife, are competent evidence to prove a marriage in all civil actions, except for crim. con., and where a marriage has been found by a jury on such evidence, it is sufficient, in law, to' defeat all rights under a second marriage entered into during its existence' — though the second marriage may have been formally solemnised and proved by direct evidence.

Action of ejectment, tried before Caldwell, J., at the last Term of Guilford Superior Court.

The only question arising in this case was upon the sufficiency of a deed from one Avy IIoocl to the defendant. It was conceded in the argument, that unless that deed was good, the plaintiffs were entitled to recover. The right to the estate being in the said Avy, she intermarried formally under license, and before witnesses, with one James ITood. She and Hood made a deed, as husband and wife, to the defendant, but the same never was authenticated as the act directs by the privy examination of the feme. She was proved to be dead, and the plaintiffs’ lessors, her heirs-at-law. This appearing to the Court, by the exhibition of the imperfect deed, the plaintiffs insisted on their right to the premises.

The defendants, however, insisted that Avy Hood’s deed was good, because the marriage between her and James Hood was null and void, he being at the time the same was solemnized married to another woman, one Grace Patterson, who was then alive ; and to make out that case, it was in evidence that he had lived with Grace Patterson ; that they had several children, and passed and were recognised as man and wife.

His Honor charged the jury, “ that where a man and woman lived together, and passed and were recognised as man and wife, it was evidence, to submit to them, of a marriage,” and also, if such marriage had taken place between James Hood and Grace Patterson, and she was alive at his marriage with Avy- Johnson, the latter marriage was void, and her *422¿feed, though made in the name of Avy Hood, and made as a married •woman and signed by her pretended husband, and not registered, was, nevertheless, sufficient to pass her estate in the premises. Plaintiff excepted.

Yerdict for the defendant. Judgment. Appeal by plaintiff.

Fowle and Graham, for the plaintiff.

Phillips, for-the defendant.

Pearson, O. J.

~We agree with his Honor in the position, that the ease turned upon the validity of the marriage between Hood and Avy Johnson, and that depended upon the question, whether there had previously been a marriage between Hood and Grace Patterson.

It was in evidence, that Hood and Grace Patterson had lived' together several years and had several children, and passed, and were recognised as man and wife,” and the jury, by their verdict, say they were satisfied that the said Hood and Grace Patterson had been married.

There was direct evidence of the solemnization of a marriage between Hood and Avy Johnson, and the question is, does this direct evidence of the one marriage exclude and render incompetent, or insufficient in law, the ci/rcwmsta/ntial evidence upon which the jury have found the former marriage ?

It is. held to. be a general rule that reputation, cohabitation, and the declaration, and conduct of the parties, are competent evidence of a marriage between them, except in two cases, i. e., on an indictment for bigamy and in an action of “ crim. eon.;” 2 Greenf. Ev. sec. 162; Burt v. Barlow, 1 Doug. 170; Morris v. Miller, 4 Burr. Rep. 2057; Wilkerson v. Payne, 4 T. R. 458; Weaver v. Cryer, 1 Dev. Rep. 337. The reason given by Lord Mansfield, for making an exception in the action for “ crim. con.” is, that “ it is penal in its nature and like a criminal proceeding.” Rut in criminal proceedings, it is confined to an indictment for bigamy ; and no particular reason is given for making that exception; it would seem that what is competent evidence in one case ought to be *423in another, provided'it satisfied the jury of the fact of the alleged marriages. But these two exceptions are fixed and, stare decisis. We are not, however, disposed to mate another exception without a reason. Especially, as, in this State, there is no registry of marriages, and frequently, circumstantial evidence is the only mode of proving one.

Our attention was called to Hassall's case, 12 Eng. Com. L. Rep. 207. The prisoners were indicted for larceny; the female prisoner (as a single woman). Her defense was that she was the wife of the other prisoner and subject to his coertion. It was proved that on the occasion when the money was stolen, the prisoners spoke of, and treated each other, as husband and wife, hut the witnesses, who were the prosecutor and constable, had never seen them except on that particular transaction.” Gakbow B. held this evidence insufficient to establish a marriage, as it was quite evident the prisoners had assumed the relation of man and wife, as a pretext for an opportunity to commit larceny. He announces the general rule and the two exceptions, and, admitting that general reputation and a continual living together, and passing, and being recognised as man and wife, would be competent and sufficient in such a case, under the general rule, to make out a defense for the woman; he was of opinion, and we entirely agree with him, that passing themselves off in that way, on a single occasion, was no evidence of their being man and wife.

There it no error.

Bee Cubiam, Judgment affirmed.